- This story is dedicated to diligent and honest judges everywhere -
- Have a Christmas cookie on me 🍪 -
The Lapland Art Contest is special, because just like Christmas, it only comes once a week.
Sorry! I haven’t even introduced myself. How rude! My name is Twinkly Snifflenose, and I’m an elf. It’s hard work being one of Santa’s elves. Really hard work. You humans always seem to think that we elves only have to work during the winter, but what do you think we do for the rest of the year? Go on holiday? Ha! Where to? Barbados? We’re supposed to NOT BE SEEN by humans, silly! And anyway, we have faaaaaar too much work to do.
We work all year round building toys, making lists, inventing new candies and playing cruel pranks on children from the naughty list…
Oh, wait. Forget that last one. The boss doesn’t know about that.
Anyway, as hard-working Christmas elves, we have two major perks. One of them is that we get to have Christmas once a week. It used to be twice, but Old Papa Sparklybum was getting a little too rowdy from drinking all the special elf whisky. I think Santa made the decision to halve the number of Christmases after Old Papa was found butt-naked and handcuffed to Rudolf's stable with a sign around his neck reading: DOUBLE CANDY CANES OR WE STRIKE 😡
Yes, we get paid in candy canes. Get over it.
And that brings me to our second perk. We get to participate in a weekly art contest. For the price of five candy canes. That might sound like it’s not a perk at all, but consider this: the contest used to be free, but then it received thousands of entries each week and it became unsustainable. Can you imagine those poor judges? Having to carefully consider each piece of art and make sure they put forward the ones who deserve it the most? Concentrating really hard on what each piece really means deep down, how technically gifted each artist is, how they have tried their very best and put their whole, entire heart and soul into their art?
These days it’s easier. With artists being encouraged to only submit their finest work through the entry fee, each judge is only asked to consider about four to six works before selecting which one (or ones) they think deserve to be considered for the shortlist. Although artists may, if they like, submit an entry for free, but it won’t be considered part of the contest. Instead it’s displayed in the town hall for all to see. Much of the work is in protest – depictions of the judges as fat, greedy pigs with candy canes in their eyes and the like – but you can often find a fine piece of art in there too.
But how do I know about the number of entries a judge has to judge, you ask? Well, here’s the exciting part of this story – I recently became a judge!!
I was quite surprised in all honesty. As an artist who has submitted no less than thirty-six pieces of art, I have never ever ever won or even made the shortlist. In fact, we are even allowed to see the list of judges and their qualifications on the official Lapland Art Contest website (yes, elves use computers, get with the times, grandma/da).
Judge #24 (Wait, twenty-four? There are twenty-four judges? That’s quite a lot, isn’t it?): Greta Glitterytoes
Her profile reads: Heeeeeyyy guyssssss! I’m an aspiring painter from the North Pole who loves to exchange feedback. I follow back!
You can even see her previous entries into the contest (judges are still allowed to compete). Fifteen beautiful submissions but alas, no wins or shortlists.
Judge #273 (You’re kidding, right? Two hundred and seventy-three judges??) Bartholomew Buttercup
His profile: New to art. All critiques are welcome.
Twelve paintings, no wins.
But none of that is important! Let me explain how the contest works. Every week, the officials at the Lapland Art Contest send out an idea for a drawing or a painting. A prompt, if you will. It could be something like (and this is just completely off the top of my head): Create a piece of art which depicts a character standing up for themselves. We have one week to work our stockings off to create the best piece of art based on the prompt, and then we send it in by post in a sealed envelope. We write the name of the piece, the name of the artist, and how many previous entries/shortlists/wins we’ve had in the Lapland Art Contest.
The first people to see the entries are the judges like me, the volunteers. We carefully consider each piece of art and choose from a few options:
- Approved. This doesn't really mean anything. It means the piece of art was acceptable for the contest but not worthy of the shortlist.
- Dismissed. We throw these ones away. I know, how sad! But it might be because they have not followed the prompt or the rule that the art must be contained within a frame no shorter than 1,000 and no longer than 3,000 centimetres across.
- Reported. This is reserved for entries which are gratuitously obscene. Mature themes are allowed, however. For example – an entry depicting Old Papa Sparklybum’s incident at the stable would be fine, depending on the angle…
- Shortlisted. The one every elf dreams of! This means that one of the voluntary, possibly inexperienced judges has loved your work so much that they have put it forward to be considered by the real judges at the Lapland Art Contest. One day, I’ll get there!
The Lapland Art Contest judges then pick a few to be displayed in silver frames as shortlisters, and one to be displayed in the centre of the gallery in its wonderful golden frame. The winner. And to be fair, these judges know what they’re doing. Every week, I have been in awe of those winners. Enormities among elves, they are, one and all.
My first day as a judge was so exciting! But I did have lots of questions.
‘Why do we get to see the names and previous entries of the participants? Shouldn’t it be secret?’
‘It’s an honours system! We’ve hand-selected all of the judges for their wonderful work and…’
‘But I’ve never won. Or shortlisted.’
‘Oh, I’m sure you will if you keep trying!’
‘But what if I get one of my friends’ entries? Surely it wouldn’t be fair for me to judge that?’
‘Don’t pick your friends then.’
‘Wait… we get to choose which entries we judge??’
‘Why, yes! You get full access to our submissions pool. We have every faith that you’ll be honest and put together a nice shortlist of entries for the real – err, sorry! I meant the internal judges to choose from.’
‘It seems awfully strange to me that the judges get to see everything about an entrant. Most art contests I’ve entered have asked that your name is not visible at all on the entry.’
‘You’re a funny little elf, aren’t you!’
‘Do you think there are ever any dishonest judges? Ones that just look to see whether or not people have shortlisted before and just put them through based on that? I’ve got thirty-six entries and no wins or shortlists, maybe I don’t stand a chance now!’
‘Oh, don’t be silly! The judges are impartial. Now, if you have any questions, you know where to find me! Bye!’
We judge inside a little cubicle. A massive conveyor belt runs through the entire place with all the entries sealed inside their brown envelopes. Handling the Truth by an artist called Q?estionable Motives. Take a deep Breathe by Jigglypump (this was later shortlisted by a volunteer). I’m Coming For You, K by H Darden. When we see one we like the title of, we pick it up and judge it. We post it through the approve/dismiss/report/shortlist bin and then hang up our jingly hats for the day. But the funny thing is, there’s a little bit of space either side of the cubicles. At the top and bottom. If you wanted to, you could peek at another judge. Get a little glimpse of what they’re doing.
And I did. And I kind of wish I hadn’t.
Okay, okay, I was a little bit naughty! Don’t tell Santa. If he puts me on that naughty list one more time I’ll be drinking my eggnog through a straw.
So anyway, wait till you get a load of this. When I peeked, this is what I saw…
The elf in the cubicle next to me picked up one of the brown envelopes and looked at it. I couldn’t read the name on it but I saw her tear it open to reveal… my own entry!! My heart did a little jig inside my little chest and I thought I would need to change my underwear, but I pulled myself together like a pair of curtains and watched.
The judge, without looking at my entry, threw it into the “approved” bin!
With an open mouth, I then watched this judge do the same thing to the next two! Including one that was from a very famous participant with two previous winning entries and NINE shortlists to her name!
I fell to the floor and hurt my bum. I was so flustered that I couldn’t even judge the piece that I’d opened, so I locked it away in my judge's cabinet, promising myself that I’d have a proper look at it when I came back into my cubicle. I had to tell someone! Anyone! But I would have to admit that I’d had a peek, and anyway, who would believe me?
On the way out, I got talking to some of the other judges. One lady in particular, Berta Brandyfizz, admitted something rather quite shocking!
‘Sometimes you just know, you know? There are many entries I have dismissed after viewing only the first two inches out of the envelope.’
‘What!? But… isn’t that a little premature? Shouldn’t you give it a chance? The artists pay five candy canes to be judged!’
‘Oh, I know! How silly of them! You’d think they would have realised by now that their candy canes could be put to better use elsewhere. Anyway, better get home. Chestnuts to roast and all that. See you again soon, Twinkly!’
After a restless sleep that night it was Christmas Day. The family photographs probably won’t become instant classics; my face was downcast and frozen to its anxious core. I had to do something.
And then it popped up in my head as clearly as though Rudolf himself had shined that brilliant red illuminance onto the idea. I could write an anonymous letter!
Racing up the stairs of my tiny elf-house and knocking down six Christmas trees as I went, I locked myself in my room and scribed the following letter:
Dear Lightysprite Kerrblam,
I am a judge. A new one. But don’t look up the new ones because this letter is anonomus. And no, I don’t know how to spell anonomus but that doesn’t matter.
Yesterday while I was judging, I saw something really concerning. I peeked into my fellow judge’s q-bikkle (sp?) and I saw that she was about to judge my own entry!
(Okay, yes, I know I shouldn’t have been peeking, but I was just SO intreeged (sp?)!)
Anyway, the judge didn’t even look at my lovely painting! She held it up away from her face as if it smelled like brussel sprouts (which… on reflection, it may have. Oops.) and dropped it straight into the “approved” bin! She didn’t even spend a minute x-amining (sp?) it!
I also heard another judge say – and I promise I’m not making this up – that she dismisses entries after only looking at the first two inches out of the envelope!! After those poor peeple (sp?) have spent FIVE candy canes on an entry!!
I just wonder if there is any way that the judging process can be improved? How do you know that all the judges are being honest? Not having names on the entries would be a good start. And maybe if an entry has one of those trigger warning thingies, then a judge could see it before they open the envelope? That way, the next time a judge is suddenly faced with an explicit (but finely painted) image of Mr Claus' recent beach holiday they'll not be so horrified and might give it a chance before dismissing it.
Anyway, as you know it’s customary to end a letter in Lapland with a joke. So, what’s the difference between Tiger Woods and Santa?
Err… Actually I’d better not finish that one.
Yes yes yes. I know, I know!
You’ll have seen it already, you smart, alert, intelligent reader, you.
In the heat of the moment, I had temporarily forgotten that you don’t usually sign your real name on an anonymous letter.
I was called in to discuss my letter. The butterflies in my tummy had butterflies in their tummies. At first, it was awful. I dreaded it. I had to eat the five candy canes that I had been saving as the next week’s entry fee just to calm myself.
But then I made a more positive decision. I was going to stand up for myself. Yes, I peeked through to the other cubicle, but at least I was a judge with integrity! With morals! Surely Lightysprite would listen to me! Maybe even give that other judge the boot!
And maybe – just maybe – my entry would even be thrown back into the submissions pool to be assessed properly!
The conversation went like this:
‘Twinkly! How lovely to see you! Now, what was that letter all about, eh?’
‘Well, you see…’
‘Oh, Twinkly! You’ve got yourself all in a binkly! Our judges run on an honours system! We have to trust that they’re being true and diligent!’
‘I’ll have a word with the judge that judged your entry and…’
‘Oh! And have it reconsid…’
‘Reconsidered!? Hahaha! You see, Twinkly, you are such a very funny elf! We can’t have it reconsidered, it’s already been fairly judged. I was just going to say to the judge that she should remember to at least scan the whole thing before dropping it into whatever bin she deems it worthy to be dropped into.’
‘Thanks, Twinkly! I’m awfully glad we cleared that up! Now keep judging! We’ve got two-hundred and fifty-seven entries this week!’
‘Now, see here!’
(This, folks, is where I lost the plot a little. Just a warning, there’s some colourful language to follow.)
‘My face went as red as Santa’s uniform when I saw that yellow judge dismiss my poor entry into that admittedly beautiful blue bin with the golden sleighbells on it and the green holly! And I’ll be tickled pink if my art is just thrown away by some white collared volunteer who might have been more concerned with turning purple because of choking on a brown chestnut to notice my lovely work!’
(That’s all of it I think. You should be safe now 😉)
‘I paid five candy canes to enter the contest and I think every entry should be ensured a proper look! It’s simply scandalous to think that the first round of this contest is nothing more than a flip of a coin!’
The room went silent then. Lightysprite didn’t seem startled at all. She just sat there looking at me thoughtfully. Perhaps I had gotten through to her!
But then she said: ‘you must trust that your entry was given a fair look. Keep painting! One day you might make the shortlist!’
And that was that.
It’s perfect. The perfect work of art. A protest piece of sorts. Probably won’t win any contests, but hey, maybe it would reach the eyes of someone in charge. And maybe they would think “hmm… you know what? That Twinkly fella has a point.”
And wasn’t that what art was all about?
The envelope was sealed. And the thirty-seventh entry was sent.
Twinkly breathed a sigh of relief. After all, there were always other contests.
The art was a little… meta. It was certainly different. Striking, in its own unusual way. And isn’t that what art is all about when it all comes down to it?
Then again, it was slightly critical of the process to which this judge is a part of.
But at the same time… was it?
Ah, difficult. Decisions, decisions.
In the end the judge’s mind was made up. After careful consideration of the choices, it was clear.
APPROVED: The art was fine. Maybe even very good. Just not particularly standout.
DISMISSED: The art fell under or over the frame length, or didn’t follow the prompt, or worse, was plagiarised! Nothing more than a photograph of another artist’s great work.
REPORTED: The art broke the rules. The authorities would have to be called. No, not the elf-police, don’t be silly! Although, in some cases…
SHORTLISTED: The art stood out from the others. As much as it may have been a slightly playful dig at the process of the competition, it was still a piece of art. A good one, in fact. It told an interesting story. With layers. It should be brought to the attention of the internal Lapland Art Contest judges…
The art sped down the tube.